Luke Combs has already made quite the mark on country music. And now he’s ready to leave his mark on downtown Nashville too.
Earlier today, Luke announced that he was partnering with Opry Entertainment Group for a new bar and entertainment venue just steps from lower Broadway in downtown Music City.
The 69,000 square foot complex will be located on Second Avenue in the home of the current Wildhorse Saloon, and is expected to open in the summer of 2024.
And today before his big announcement, Luke sat down for an exclusive interview with Whiskey Riff to talk about his excitement at opening his own music venue as a guy who came up playing honky tonks – including the Wildhorse Saloon:
“Those were the best days, really. You feel like you, at least from my experience, you’re playing these rooms that – you start out in rooms that are smaller than that. If you can put 250, 300 people in a place you’re killing it, especially when you’re starting out.
You really at that time feel like you have this upward trajectory of where your career’s going, and you’re continuing to get new opportunities. And that was so exciting for me.
Places like Coyote Joe’s in Charlotte, the Blind Horse, Iron City, here…these are all places that are like, in my mind, famous spots. Places that everybody goes and plays. So it felt to me a lot like a right of passage too.
So to be able to do something here at the Wildhorse is just amazing. I just never thought I’d see the day.”
Luke’s definitely graduated from these smaller venues, currently selling out stadiums not only in the United States but around the world.
But despite the fact that he’s currently in Nashville for a two-night run at Nissan Stadium, Luke says the honky tonks are still his favorite places to play:
“Stadiums are unbelievable, they’re unparalleled, size and scope, the grandiose nature of it is insane, it’s just like it doesn’t even feel real.
But those honky tonks, man, that time in your career is so special, at least it was for me. It’s like, it’s all new, it’s all exciting, you’re achieving all these dreams that you’ve had.
That’s what it is, man. You put 1,500 people in a honky tonk where you might have sold 800 tickets and the rest of the people might just be in there to go there. So you have an opportunity to gain new fans.”
But Luke says despite the fact that he’s now packing stadiums, he still sees an opportunity to gain new fans every time he goes out on stage:
“It’s crazy to me that that’s still happening. We went and played in Dallas and I remember asking the crowd how many people had been to a show with me before and I was shocked at how few people were – like man, this is the first time that 30 or 40,000 people are seeing me, which is nuts, because you just don’t think you’re playing to anybody new at that point.
You’re thinking like ‘Ok, they’ve all been to a show before. But it’s so many people.
But I love just the opportunity to play for just anybody really. It doesn’t matter if they’ve seen me 100 times or if this is their first time. I just love playing music, I really do.”
So since Luke likes playing in the honky tonks and dive bars, we asked him: Describe your perfect dive bar.
“There’s gotta be a lot of neon in there, right? I mean that has to happen.
I think of glass beer bottles, there’s a smell. You got that tacky hardwood floor going on.
Probably some taxidermy going on in there, old taxidermy.
Loud music, like bar band type of energy going on, cover band type of thing.”
And one venue specifically stands out in his mind that fits his idea of the perfect bar – and no surprise it’s in his home state of North Carolina:
“I mean, Coyote Joe’s man. That place to me is everything that I love about where country music is played best.”
It’s these ideas for a perfect bar that Luke hopes is reflected in his new venue when it opens: The space right inside the front door is going to be a small 250-person honky tonk reminiscent of the dive bars Luke grew up playing.
“There’s going to be that streetfront area that’s going to have that honky tonk feel. That’s what I wanted it to have because that’s what I love the most. And so that was really important to me to have that be part of the space too.”
But standing out in downtown Nashville is harder than ever these days. Within just a block or two of Luke’s bar are venues owned by Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, John Rich, Kid Rock, Miranda Lambert, Florida Georgia Line and Alan Jackson. And soon, one of Luke’s heroes and friends Eric Church will also be opening his new venue, Chief’s, on Broadway.
So does Luke feel any pressure to compete with these other artists’ venues?
“I don’t see it as necessarily a competition. I guess from a business standpoint it probably is. But for me it’s an opportunity to do something for my fans that’s unique. But I also think the venue element to what we’re doing here is going to set this spot apart from anywhere else.
We really want to establish this as a venue that people want to come play when they’re on tour and they come to Nashville, and really be the premiere 1500-cap room in town. I think that’s what will set us apart.
And there are different levels to this space too that we’re looking forward to unveiling that will have a little bit of something for everybody. And I think that’s also something that’s only able to be achieved in a space like this just due to the size of it. So I think that’s what will really make it unique.”
To go along with the honky tonk in the new venue, some of those spaces will include the 1,500-seat venue on the main floor that will feature a world-class bourbon bar and bring in high-quality talent throughout the week. And it’s even going to include a space specifically for all of the bachelorettes who come to Nashville, named after Luke’s hit “Beautiful Crazy.”
The second floor, which will be called The Still, will be a spot geared specifically towards songwriters (including Luke himself) and give writers a spot downtown to flex their creative talent, as well as show off all of Luke’s accomplishments.
And the third floor will feature a sports bar, geared towards folks who want to take advantage of sports betting during their time in Nashville.
Of course no bar in Nashville would be complete without a rooftop, and Luke’s spot will be no different – although it may just have the best location in downtown Nashville, overlooking the Cumberland River and Nissan Stadium, making it a prime spot for big events like watching the annual 4th of July fireworks launched from the river.
It sounds like Luke’s put a ton of thought into the new venue, and every inch of the space is going to reflect his music and his personality.
But I had one more important question for Luke: Who is he most excited to shotgun a Miller Lite with at his new bar once it opens?
“Probably just the fans, honestly. It’s cool to be able to do anything with the fans.”